Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts About Classroom Management

What sorts of advice are you getting for managing your students? Interested in what other people are thinking about this? Edutopia has set up a New Teacher Academy and the first lesson is on this especially challenging issue for all teachers. We are happy to share this article with you from Edutopia. Lisa Michelle Dabbs, the facilitator of the New Teacher Connections group at Edutopia writes, "Classroom management is a term used by teachers and educators to describe the process of ensuring that classroom lessons run smoothly despite potentially challenging or disruptive student behavior. The term also implies the prevention of this kind of disruptive behavior. Many teachers find that classroom management is possibly the most difficult aspect of teaching; indeed, experiencing problems in this area causes some to leave teaching altogether. It can be even more challenging when you're a new teacher!"

This probably resonates for many of you. Read on and feel free to post any comments and thoughts.

New Teacher Academy: Classroom Management

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Here are some terrific ideas to help you feel connected and to avoid feeling isolated in your schools and your classrooms. These are from a great article posted on
And here is another tip! Come and join us and establish some new connections at any of our New Teacher Community Events! The next one is Saturday, March 24th.

Six Ways to Avoid Feeling Isolated in the Classroom

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia consulting online editor and online education teacher at Stanford

In her work with UCLA's Graduate School of Education, Rebecca Alber assists teachers and schools in meeting students' academic needs through best practices. Alber also instructs online teacher-education courses for Stanford University.

It's easy to get caught up in the worlds of the tikes, teens, or tweens we teach. I remember after a couple of years of teaching eleventh graders, I would fall into speaking teenspeak to my friends. They would give me a funny look as I said, "And you know, it's like, whatever."

Unlike our friends and family working in the private sector, we teachers spend 98 percent of our time, not with peers, but with children and in our classrooms. So it's easy to forget to reach out and have adult conversations during our workdays. (Taking breaks from the room where you teach is also important.)

Sure, PLNs and other online social networking groups are fantastic and definitely serve a purpose, but we are human -- and we need human contact and connection.

And especially with humans are own age. (There's nothing more disconcerting than making a reference to pop culture you think kids you teach will know. I recently referenced the singer Prince. The students stared at me blankly...FAIL!)

With budget cuts being what they are these days, less and less professional development opportunities are happening for teachers during the workday. So it's even more important to get proactive and create time to collaborate or just connect with your colleagues.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Arrange to eat lunch with a few colleagues at least twice a week. If you are inviting kids to your room, or sitting alone in your classroom with your thoughts and turkey sandwich, fine, but just not everyday.
  2. Create a time once a week or every other week where you merge your class with another teacher's. Meet outside, in the cafeteria, or library to read together, do writer's workshop, or practice speech debate.
  3. If a secondary teacher, co-teach once in awhile during your conference time. The other teacher can do the same, lending you a helping hand. Follow the visit with a reflective conversation sharing how you think the lesson went.
  4. Create a walking club with a group of teachers and office staff. Walk the block or campus during lunch or recess.
  5. How about a lunch time book club?
  6. Host a round robin share once a week with a group of colleagues you admire. Sit in a circle and each share for 3 minutes a strategy, activity, or project that really shined that week in your classroom. Leave 10 minutes after the round robin for one on one time to give specifics for those wanting more information.

If it's just too difficult to do much with other adults during your workday...

  • Visit a museum or gallery with a colleague after work, or see a film related to education or your content and follow it up with a coffee/cocktail and a chat
  • For early risers, have breakfast together or a cup of coffee before the start of the school day
  • Sign up with a colleague for an evening class or weekend conference

The key here is that isolating in your classroom can be a fast road to feeling low efficacy, lonely, even unhappy -- in plain, to burning out. And burn out is the great hazard of our profession. Staying connected, in real time, face-to-face, with your teacher colleagues is essential.

About his research on happiness, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert puts it this way:

"We are by far the most social species on Earth," explains Gilbert. "If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn't want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I'd want to know about your social network -- about your friends and family and the strength of the bonds with them."

How do you stay connected with colleagues on your campus? Please share!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy new year! We hope that you have all returned to your classrooms refreshed and excited. It's progress report time for many of you---good luck. Let us know if you need help with ways to say delicate or difficult comments. We're here for you.

Hmmmmmmm.... Think alouds as an assessment tool? Yes! Critically listen to your students solve problems. "The advantage of think alouds over graded student work is that they allow one to observe the process of thinking in a raw, unvarnished state. Think alouds reveal not only what a student thinks but also how she came to think it. Think alouds expose the stumbling, the hesitations, the blind alleys, the good ideas entertained and abandoned, the inner workings of a mind trying to make sense...." Here's a fascinating article about this (the quote is from the article) written by a university history teacher that has relevance for any classroom teacher:

Teaching Professor Blog logo
By Maryellen Weimer, PhD

One of the enduring legacies of the classroom assessment movement (thank you Pat Cross and Tom Angelo) is that most faculty now realize that if they want to know how well something worked to promote learning in the classroom, they can't just rely on what they think. They need to support what they think with feedback from students and, if that feedback doesn't agree with what they think, they need to listen carefully to what the students said.

Building on that foundation, the scholarship of teaching movement has shown faculty that they can "study," as in systematically inquire about, what's happening in their classrooms. Increasingly, instructors' examinations of their teaching and their students' learning are finding their way into the pedagogical literature. One of the side benefits of these scholarly endeavors is the importing of a number of interesting assessment techniques mostly developed in psychology, cognitive psychology and educational psychology. Think alouds is one such technique and Lendol Calder describes how he used this approach in an introductory history course.

Think alouds were originally developed by cognitive psychologists as a research tool to study how people solved problems. Calder used them in his course "to measure changes in thinking patterns over time for selected individual enrolled in my survey [course]." (p. 1367) At the very beginning of the course he gave students a number of historical documents (somewhere between seven and ten) pertaining to the battle of the Little Big Horn. Students were supposed to try and figure out what the documents meant. They did so by talking out loud to themselves. "Their verbalized comments were recorded and transcribed for later analysis to determine patterns of cognition used to make sense of the documents." (p. 1367) Students participated in the same exercise at the end of the course only with a different set of historical documents.

You could do the same with papers written before and after a course, but Calder thinks that the think alouds have distinct advantages. "." (p. 1368)

But Calder identifies another advantage that's even more compelling: "Listening to my students think out loud as they tried to make sense of documents is the single most eye-opening experience I have had in my years as a teacher." (p. 1368)

Could changes in student thinking be detected in the before and after of these think alouds? "What my studies revealed is that even in a short, ten-week course students on average make modest to occasionally dramatic gains in all six aspects of historical thinking taught in the course." (p. 1368) I should note that Calder's course is your not typical history survey course — his article describes a course design that deviates significantly from how history courses are usually designed and taught.

It's such an interesting assessment strategy. Even if you didn't want to use it in a rigorous study design, the idea of listening to students as they try to deal with content has got to be revealing. In the cognitive psychology research, think alouds have been used to differentiate expert and novice knowledge and thinking processes. As I have pointed out in previous posts, it is so easy for faculty experts to forget how novices think about the content. Yes, it can be depressing, even frightening, since most students do not think all that deeply about our content. But knowing where they start allows for a more efficient journey to where they need to be. As Calder's experience shows, you can then design a course, in his case one where he used the content to explicitly teach six cognitive habits: questioning, connecting, sourcing, making inferences, considering alternate perspectives and recognizing limits to one's knowledge. (p. 1364).

Reference: Calder, L. (2006). Uncoverage: Toward a signature pedagogy for the history pedagogy. The Journal of American History, March, 1358-1370.